The Korea Herald


Summer promises musical fanfare for all tastes

By 안성미

Published : June 22, 2015 - 18:44

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From world premieres to international revivals with original Broadway cast members, summertime in Korea will surely live up to the country’s growing reputation of having one of the most dynamic and burgeoning musical scenes outside of Broadway and the West End.

Here are some of the most anticipated shows of the season.

Promotional image of the new local musical Promotional image of the new local musical "Arirang" (Seensee Company)

Korean originals

The upcoming production of musical “Arirang” will mark a historic moment as the show will bring to life the words of renowned Korean novelist Jo Jung-rae and his epic 12-volume novel of the same title. The production comes after years of relentless and mostly failed attempts to adapt the 20,000-page painstaking tale of Japan’s colonization of the peninsula into a screenplay for TV or film.

Producer Park Myung-sung -- known for his local adaptions of Broadway hits such as “Aida” and “Mamma Mia” -- and his Seensee Company have dedicated the past three years and some 5 billion won ($4.5 million) to bring Jo’s words to the stage.

The musical will feature Suh Bum-seok and Ahn Jae-wook as male lead Song Su-ik and actresses Yoon Gong-joo and Kim Seong-nyeo as the female lead Bang Su-guk. “Arirang” will be performed from July 11 to Sept. 5 at the LG Arts Center.

In Korea’s relatively short history of musicals, “The Last Empress” is something of a milestone. Premiering in 1995, the musical, which follows the 19th-century life of Empress Myeongseong, who was killed by Japanese assassins, was the first blockbuster musical created by Koreans.

The 20th anniversary production of the show will be staged at Seoul Arts Center’s Opera Theater from July 28 through Sept. 10, with Kim So-hyun and Shin Young-sook playing the ill-fated empress.

Stars, stars, stars

Boyband JYJ member and musical superstar Kim Jun-su is appearing in the Korean rendition of the musical “Death Note,” a Japanese production with international creators led by Broadway composer Frank Wildhorn.

Based on the Japanese cartoon and film series of the same title, “Death Note” is currently running at the Seongnam Arts Center’s Opera House, just two months after its world premiere in Japan. The Korean rendition also stars Hong Kwang-ho, an A-list musical star who has returned to the local scene after starring in a West End production of “Miss Saigon” last year. “Death Note” will continue through Aug. 9. 

Key from Key from "Chess" (Showholic)

The local revival of the West End musical “Chess” will highlight performances by popular K-pop idols Jo-kwon of 2AM, Key of SHINee, CNU of B1A4 and Ken of VIXX in the role of Anatoly Sergievsky, a Russian chess player, with musical actors Shin Sung-woo and Lee Kun-myung taking on the role of Freddie Trumper, his American rival.

With lyrics by Tim Rice and music by Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, “Chess” is based on the eponymous book set during the time of the Cold War amid heightening tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union. However, despite the growing political tension between the two countries, the world chess championship in Thailand still manages to capture global attention when American grandmaster Trumper prepares to battle it out against Soviet grandmaster Sergievsky. “Chess” will run until July 19 at the Sejong Center.
Jo-kwon from Jo-kwon from "Chess" (Showholic)

The local reinterpretation of the original Viennese musical “Elisabeth” has returned to the local musical scene. Following mega Hallyu star Kim Jun-su of JYJ and his critically acclaimed role as “death” or “der tod” in the musical’s 2012-2013 run, all eyes have turned to former YG member and K-pop star Se7en, who has made his musical debut in Kim’s former role of “death.” The musical tells the tale of an Austrian empress and her growing obsession with death as her life progresses. The role of Elisabeth is played by actresses Oak Joo-hyun and Cho Jung-eun, while actors Sin Seong-rok and Jeong Dong-suk have taken on the role of “death” along with Se7en. “Elisabeth” will be performed until Sept. 6 at Blue Square in Hannam-dong, Seoul.

Licensed shows

One of the world’s most successful rock musicals, “Jesus Christ Superstar” -- the beloved love child of Broadway legends Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice -- is returning to the local stage after its previous run in 2013. The newly revived Korean rendition of the rock opera musical has been revamped under the leadership of director Gina Lee and once again features prominent Korean-American Broadway star Michael K. Lee, reprising his leading role as Jesus. The musical is loosely based on the life of the last week of Jesus, highlighting the personal and political struggles of Judas and Jesus leading to the crucifixion. “Jesus Christ Superstar” will be staged at the Charlotte Theater in Seoul until Sept. 13. 

A scene from A scene from "Chicago" (Seensee Company)

The longest-running American musical in West End history, “Chicago,” has made its way back to Seoul this summer, inviting along the original Broadway cast. The six-time Tony Award winner is a dynamic tale of passion, lust and murder against the backdrop of 1920s Chicago in the roaring jazz music era. The historic musical has been performed in more than 420 cities across the world and has been seen by more than 22 million people. The production features cast members from the U.S. Tour Company, featuring Terra MacLeod as Velma Kelly, Dylis Croman as Roxie Hart, Marco Zunino as Billy Flynn and Roz Ryan as Mamma Morton. The original cast run of “Chicago” will be held at the National Theater of Korea until Aug. 8.

By Julie Jackson (